Genuine Exotic Melons
Winters (Yolo County), California

144 Years in Yolo County
Dave Fredericks' first week at the S.F. Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market this season was in mid-July when he appeared with "today's corn" and "exotic melons". He expects to be in his usual spot on the west side of the Market next to Intertidal Oysters until mid-October.

After talking with Dave, I may have to go back and revise some of my earlier stories about the oldest farming family represented at the Ferry Plaza Market. Dave comes from a family with 144-year history of farming in Yolo County. In 1852, his great-great grandparents immigrated from Hamburg, Germany to Winters, California where they took up farming and raising hogs. Dave is the 5th generation of his family to be farming on the same land as his great-great grandparents and he's already talking about his 4-year old daughter as a 6th generation farmer!

But neither Dave nor his father before him had actually grown up on the family farm. Dave's father was a artist, living in San Francisco when Dave was born. Dave was raised in San Francisco, attended the California Art Institute, and lived in San Francisco until the back-to-the-land movement in the early 1970's beckoned him to the family farm in Yolo County.

Today, Dave's family has 2,000 acres under cultivation about 7 miles west of Davis. Most of this acreage is devoted to staples -- rice, feed corn, sugar beets and safflowers (for oil). But Dave has set aside 60 acres where he has fun growing fresh produce. On these 60 acres, he decided to devote 7 acres to "exotic" melons, 40 acres to sweet corn and a acre to dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes.

Dave's Deep into Melons
Dave Fredericks is a walking encyclopedia about the history and cultivation of melons. Among the things you'll learn in talking with him is that:

The Sweetest Melons . . .

Dave explained that the sweetest melons he's ever grown measured 18.5 brix on a refractometer, and on average his melons are about 13 -15 brix. Proving his point that he has some of the sweetest melons at the Market, he grabbed one of his cantaloupes from the top of the pile, deftly carved off a piece and smeared the slice on his refractometer. It measured 13 brix! What a convincing sales technique! (By comparison, melons found in grocery stores typically measure just above 8 brix, the legal minimum.)

He attributes the sweetness of his melons to his dry-farming techniques. In the spring, he cultivates the soil deeply, using the same heavy equipment he has on hand to farm the rest of the 2000 acres. (He admits most 5-acre farmers don't have such heavy equipment to cultivate as deeply as he can, so they're not able to use the dry-farming technique as successfully as Dave.)

Melon Magic
He plants in the spring while the ground is still damp. After planting, he waters perhaps only once during the season, thus forcing the plant's tap root to grow down seeking its own water. Because, the plant is sustained only by water that Mother Nature can provide, the fruit doesn't get water-logged from applied watering. That's one of the secrets of Dave's melons. Another obvious secret is allowing the melons to ripen on the vine. As Dave explains, melons do not continue to "ripen", i.e. develop more sugar, after they're harvested. They will soften after harvesting, but they won't ripe -- a good tip to keep in mind when you're buying melons!

Here' s a cross-section of Dave's "exotic" melons:

Characteristics

Flavor

Yellow Rose Watermelon Small and round; small seeds Sweet and light taste of cola
Crimson Sweet Watermelon Large and round Root beer overtones
Cantaloupe Oval with dense netting Candied flowers
French Sharlyn Large yellow oval with netting Vanilla
Tiger Baby Small, round watermelon Cola
Japanese Honeydew Squat and round; green flesh True melon
Kharboozeh Mashedi Orange and yellow skin Aged chardonay

Dave freely lops off a piece of any of his melons to give customers a taste.

White Corn
When Dave arrives at the Saturday morning market at 8:00 AM, his white corn is less than 2 hours from harvest time. So you can be sure that it's as sweet as it can be and that the sugars have not yet begun their natural process of converting to starch. Throughout the season, he sells 3 ears for $1.00 By the first week of August, his corn will be finished for the season, but that's just about the time he starts bringing tomatoes to the Market.

Tomatoes
Dave uses the same dry-farming technique to grow his tomatoes as he does on melons. With dry-farming, the tomatoes tend to be a little smaller, but the small size is made up by their intense tomato flavor. These aren't fancy heirloom tomatoes; they're simply Early Girls that have been cultivated in a way that brings out their best flavor. Without a doubt, these are the tastiest tomatoes at the Market! Dave expects to start bringing them to the Market in early August. Since he only grows a acre, he doesn't have a big display of them. You'll find a few boxes stacked on the back side of his truck. Don't overlook them!

Where to Find Dave
Dave participates only in the Saturday San Francisco Ferry Plaza and Marin Civic Center farmers' markets for the fun of interacting with his customer. He sells most of his fresh produce directly to Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market.

August 1996

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